Bolton Wanderers were once again performing well above expectations in their second season in the Championship, sitting nicely in the upper mid-table as 2024 approached. But the most pleasing thing about the club’s progress is the number of homegrown players starring in the first-team.
A good example of this was a 2-0 win over Bournemouth – who were spending a massive £44 million-per-annum on wages compared to our £2.36 million. Two true Trotters Talents, in wingers Ronnie Latapy and Ebube Onoja, created goals for Corey Jordan and the main man Ryan Cassidy, who bagged his 15th of the season.
We were also unlucky to lose 1-0 to both promotion-chasing Stoke and Sheffield United, who still had a load of Premier League players in their team. But a brilliant rearguard effort earned a 1-0 win at Barnsley, which ridiculously moved us up to 10th and just one point off the playoffs! And, more importantly, 15 clear of relegation.
A big Boxing Day local derby saw another proud day for the club as captain Nigel Turner racked up his 100th league appearance for Bolton at home to Preston – at just 18 years old! But one of his academy product teammates Latapy stole the show with a stunning finish to earn a deserved 1-0 win, then Cassidy sealed another win by the same scoreline at home to Wycombe.
That sent us into the 2034 in the Championship playoff places and just three points off the promotion places! Absolutely crazy! However, let’s be very clear that promotion is nowhere near realistic, we’re nowhere near ready for it, and we don’t have the squad or quality required to get near the playoffs.
Heading into 2034
The year began with a string of defeats, including going out of the FA Cup at Leeds, but a late Cassidy double took him to 20 goals for the season and sealed a 2-1 win in a crazy game at nine-man QPR. But we took a battering at leaders Derby, in which Brzozowski won player of the match despite losing 2-0 with 13 saves.
My 200th game in charge of Bolton started well against Brentford with Josh Cullen and Cassidy putting us two-up, both created by Louie Barry, but we caved into the pressure and drew 2-2. But football is a funny old game and in the next game we were two down at home to Bristol City, who then missed a penalty, we pulled it back to 2-2, then won a last-minute penalty of our own that Cullen smashed home for a 3-2 win! How strange. Also, having scored just one goal all season by mid-February, Cullen now has four in his last three – I believe that’s what they call ‘playing for a contract.’
From there we really began to struggle as we unsurprisingly fell to defeats to teams in the top half of the league. But a brilliant Cassidy hat-trick and a goal from substitute Onoja sealed a superb 4-1 win over Portsmouth ended six games without a win and just one win in the previous 10. We were then unlucky to be pegged back for a draw at Forest by a dodgy penalty and only lose 1-0 at already promoted Stoke.
The season countdown began with a 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers,then a brilliant performance to beat playoff-chasing Sheffield United 2-1 in which Marcin Brzozowski won player of the match with 12 saves. And it finished at £1 million-a-week-wage-spending Bournemouth, in which we led early through Lars Dendoncker’s first goal of the season from a Turner free-kick and held on for a famous 1-0 win.
That late flurry of good form lifted us up to 10th in the Championship with 65 points, scoring 52 goals and conceding 51 (which is 12 points more, 14 more scored and 1 less conceded than last season). Not bad for a team predicted to finish bottom for the second season in a row! Cassidy was 3rd top goalscorer with 25 goals, only bettered by Stephy Mavididi’s 28 and an outrageous tally of 37 from Derby’s Ricky Jade-Jones.
And that saw us pass our objective of becoming an established SkyBet Championship two years ahead of schedule. Let’s just hope the board don’t get ideas above their station after a lucky season.
Cassidy was of course our top scorer with 27 goals, followed by Cullen with nine then, worryingly, no-one else scored more than Onoja’s four. Loanee Barry led the way with six assists and we saw a little bit more creativity from midfield but I still need more out of them from an attacking perspective.
Goalkeeper Brzozowski won fans’ player of the season for the second year in a row and was named in the Championship team of the year. And he’s still only considered a League 1 keeper! Cassidy won young player, centre-back Zane Monlouis somehow won signing of the season despite having a horrible average rating and Alfie McCalmont won goal of the season.
Bolton’s Exciting Future
I’d just signed a new three-year deal at the club and things are starting to look fairly exciting for the future. This is mainly thanks to the raft of promising youngsters, which includes no fewer than 11 players with 4.5- or 5-star potential. The pick of those are Turner, Latapy and Onoja, but I think there’s plenty more young Trotters Talent to join them in the first-team soon, including this year’s academy product star Nana Martin.
Adding to that, at the end of the season the board announced plans to build a new stadium to replace the University of Bolton Stadium, which was described as being old and having high maintenance costs. They’re currently searching for suitable sites and investors.
However, the concern over finances remains very real. We ended the season with a balance of -£2 million and we’re losing about £550,000 monthly. That said, the club chairman loan is down to £12.75 million and only has two more years of monthly instalments remaining.
A look around England
Liverpool won the Premier League, continuing the trend of trading titles with Man City, who finished down in fourth. Middlesbrough, Villa and Wolves were relegated. Stoke and Derby got promoted automatically and Bristol City joined them through the playoffs, while QPR, Barnsley and Wycombe went down.
Peterborough won League 1 and were joined by Charlton and Sunderland, who won the playoff final. Swindon, Exeter, Walsall and Plymouth all went down. Wigan won League 2, Colchester and Notts County were promoted and Port Vale won the playoffs, and Harrogate and Wealdstone were relegated. They were replaced by Barnet and Yeovil, while Gateshead, Chester, Eastleigh and Boreham Wood went down. King’s Lynn, Kidderminster, Aldershot and Woking climbed up to the National League.
Liverpool also won the FA Cup, beating Norwich 4-3 in extra-time the final. While Man United won the Champions League, beating Juventus 2-0 with a Bruno Fernandes double in the final, and Arsenal, led by £71 million Jarrod Bowen and £67 million Tariq Lamptey, won the Europa League, beating Lyon 1-0 in the final.
Join us next time to see how Bolton Wanderers set about rebuilding for a third season in the SkyBet Championship!